September 29, 2017

What We Can Learn From Japan

As most of you already know, Japan is a distinctive country. On one side of the spectrum, there’s the traditional culture that values the subtle art of wabi sabi; and on the other side, there’s the mega pop culture of manga and Harajuku fashion. These two Japanese cultures are different in almost every aspect, but there’s one thing that’s constant in both worlds. That’s excellent customer service.


In America, when you go through a cashier to checkout, it’s pretty cut-and-dry. You give a cashier your money, and they give you back the change–that’s all.


In Japan, you’ll experience something different.


First, a cashier will bow to greet and welcome you to the store. If you require change in both bills and coins, instead of giving everything at once, the cashier will first count out the bills for you to prove there’s no fraud then place them in your hands. When you’re ready to receive the rest of the change after putting your bills away, the cashier will put the coins on top of a receipt and gently hand it over to you. This way, you don’t have to touch the coins and a receipt makes it easier for you to slide the coins into your wallet’s pouch.


In addition to that, the experience of receiving your purchased item in a store is different between America and Japan. My favorite experience comes from book stores. When you buy a book in Japan, in any size or thickness, the cashier will wrap or fold it with a sheet of paper to protect the cover from scratches and dust.


Yes, they give you a dust cover for your dust cover. Some people may say it’s too much, but for me this extra service adds more precious value to the product.


The Japanese customer service is even available where there are no human interactions.


In department stores on rainy days, narrow plastic bags are placed near the entrance doors for people to cover their wet umbrellas while they shop around. In restaurants, every table has a button to call a waiter or waitress whenever assistance is needed–eliminating those awkward moments of waiting for waiters to walk by your table.


The high standards in customer service in Japan are connected to the Japanese consumers’ high expectation towards businesses. In a survey conducted by American Express International, the respondents were asked whether they would take their business elsewhere after one bad service experience, Japan was significantly the least forgiving of the countries surveyed. Over half (56 percent) of those surveyed in Japan responded that they’d cut ties with a business after just one bad experience. In comparison, the second least forgiving was the UK (37 percent), and the most forgiving was Hong Kong (23 percent). To avoid losing customers, Japanese businesses have standardized a high level of customer service.


A few extra steps and considerations towards customers can make an ordinary experience something special. As a designer who has direct interactions with clients, I make it a point to ensure every touchpoint is unique. While bowing to a customer might be excessive in America, designing a product which encompasses the sentiment is sure to make my client’s passion known, differentiate them from their competition and increase the perceived value of their product or service.

Photo of Kei

Kei Kato, Pixel Mixer, is a visual adventurer from the Far East.